Valentine Tale

by Rab Donald

'Roxanne Amy Phillips you are making a big mistake!'

Several hours had passed since her mother had made this final pronouncement, yet Roxy couldn't help feeling that the old witch was right.

'I could use that as my epitaph' the tall, somewhat gaunt looking girl spoke aloud even though she was alone. "Here lies Roxanne Phillips - it was all a big mistake"

As she surveyed her new apartment she became painfully aware that in fact those very words represented the last time anyone had actually spoken to her. Roxy didn't include the caretaker who had said 'here are your keys' without so much as looking at her.

Pale blue walls and a worn, mud brown coloured carpet, the ceiling off-white with mysterious stains...

could it have been more depressing?

Her new apartment, her *first* apartment was basically two rooms. The plus side was a respectable sized bathroom with working shower, genuinely hot water from the taps and a flushing toilet that fingers-crossed did exactly what it should do, and *only* what it should do.

The main room was sizeable too. A large south facing window gave ample light and four storeys up little opportunity for peeping toms or passing burglars. Roxy had chosen to locate her bed their so that the cool weather would provide soothing breezes.

At the opposite end of the rectangular space was the kitchen area, slightly partitioned by what was rather grandly described as a "breakfast-bar", it had a smallish working refrigerator, gas cooker and adequate cupboard space.

Scanning the room again Roxy saw one suitcase not yet unpacked as well as a couple of cardboard boxes and a handful of opaque plastic bags that were yet to be emptied, but she sighed knowing that no further surprises, no hidden treasures would be found.

Leaving the family home was proving more difficult than she had expected. In her more realistic moments she had reasoned that there would be problems, many problems yet she had not anticipated that after only so many hours loneliness would set in.

'I should count my blessings' she told herself out loud, then became embarrassed by the sound of her voice with no-one to hear. At seventeen she was starting out with a colour TV and her computer, though the lack of telephone did scupper her precious Internet access...

Roxy hadn't really considered herself to be a "telephone person" but not having one right at hand was one of the very first things she had missed.

Perhaps unwisely she briefly considered what would be happening back home. Stuffing their faces no doubt while she barely had enough cash to go shopping for just the essentials. Her parents had never described themselves as "rich", it seemed a vulgar thing to admit to, but they did allow "comfortable"

With daylight fading Roxy switched on the lights and immediately fretted about the electric bill, she was beginning to realise just how uncomfortable even relative poverty could be.

She rifled through one of the plastic bags and pulled out the calendar that she had used to count off the days. A Christmas gift from Aunt Rose, it was in fact the same gift Rose sent every year. One of those calendars with a large picture, different for each month, above and the dates marked out below in squares big enough to leave notes of appointments, birthdays etc. In some ways it was a pleasant gift, a kind of certainty. Probably since she was eight years old she could look forward each Christmas to a "calendar from Rose"

This type of calendar was commonplace, and the photographs in the collection covered every conceivable topic, yet Rose never attempted to be a slave to fashion. Ignoring pop stars, TV shows or film actors that a growing girl may well have been interested in, Aunt Rose invariably sent one depicting a staid, almost conservative topic. This year it was "ships of the sea" and the picture for February was that of "The Mayflower" Roxy had no idea if that particular boat had any association with the month of February, she didn't really care. The important thing was that the date marked by a large 12 had been both circled and underlined - it was today's date, the day of her historic move.

Mindful that the gas bill was now another of her new responsibilities, Roxy eschewed cooking.

For her supper she would feast on turkey sandwiches washed down with lemonade.

It seemed odd that at home the evening meal would last for half an hour or more, tonight Roxy was finished eating within ten minutes.

She began to talk aloud again, *something* had to be done to break her melancholy.

'Shall we retire to the living-room?' she asked an imaginary guest.

'Not so much a room as an indefinite space between my bed and the kitchen' she adopted the voice of the man who had originally shown her the apartment.

'As you can see it is furnished with a small, no bijou table and a delightful two-seater couch'

The smile she adopted was somewhat forced.

'We have stunning views from the window, and one can even parade around naked if one desires!'

Her smile faded. The creep had actually said that.

Roxy wanted to spend time deciding on where to hang the calendar, her only adornment for the plain blue walls, but she suddenly felt tired. Morose, subdued, *lonely* would be more accurate.

It seemed ridiculous to go to bed at such an early hour, but she had no mind for watching television

and the only CD she could find was Neil Young's "Harvest" The track "Helpless" would hit just too close to home.

It felt like she had been sitting on her bed staring into space for hours when a knock on the door jolted her back to something resembling sentience. She remained still and mute, startled by the noise she felt a pang of fear. Who could it be? One thought was that it may just be her parents, coming to check on her or even to make up and invite her back home? Part of her longed for that solution, another part would hate their intrusion and her own lack of independence.

The knock was repeated, this time accompanied by a voice.

'Hello! Hello?' The tones were female and young and they sounded friendly.

As Roxy moved towards the door her mind flashed with thoughts that this could still be dangerous.

The girl may have male accomplices just waiting to pounce the moment the door was unlocked, the girl herself could be a druggie, armed and dangerous.

Despite these misgivings, Roxy continued to approach her door.

'I'm your neighbour, I saw you move in earlier' the almost sing-song voice continued

'I've got booze' it added with something like a giggle.

Roxy had never before felt that the simple turn of a key could be the cause of such personal turmoil, perhaps like a burglar opening a safe not quite sure of what to expect to see inside.

'Hi, I'm Gabby, Gabby Potter' the girl positively breezed inside, her energy a counterpoint to Roxy's sloth. The tall brunette closed and relocked the door, she was quite taken aback by the appearance and demeanour of her guest. The girl was quite petite, with blonde hair that had been streaked with bright red dye. She looked young, just too young to have a place of her own.

However Roxy knew that the biggest problem was that she seemed too self-assured. She was wearing a low cut cropped top that showed a small cleavage and a rather short mini skirt, she was carrying two bottles in one hand and a pack of cigarettes in the other, but dammit more than that she displayed the confidence of someone much, much older.

Almost before Roxy could gather her thoughts the newcomer had grabbed two glasses from the kitchen and carried them to the table where she began to pour the drinks.

'I have cider or white wine, just the cheap stuff you understand' Gabby pronounced.

'Either is fine' Roxy assured her guest as she sat at the table.

'Do you smoke? Do you mind if I do?' Gabby was not slow in breaking a moment's silence.

'Well I do, occasionally' said Roxy quite truthfully, she was one of those very rare people who could take cigarettes without getting totally addicted.

'But I think I'm out' she looked around wondering if there might be a packet in one of the plastic bags.

'That's OK, I have a full pack' Gabby announced happily and offered one over, of course she had a lighter too, and grabbed a saucer for a makeshift ashtray.

Though it wasn't entirely to her liking, Roxy was pleased to finish the first two glasses of cider in short order. The actual taste was not great, but the warm, relaxing sensation that followed seemed like exactly what she had needed. After a short while, Gabby no longer appeared like the human hurricane that the first impression had suggested.

The two got to talking and in between apologising for her lack of cigarettes and promising that she would repay Gabby as soon as practicable, Roxy learned a great deal about her new neighbour, things that seemed both horrifying yet fascinating.

'You seem a little young to be smoking and drinking' the much taller girl had ventured albeit tentatively.

'Oh! Come on' the blonde had replied 'I've been smoking since twelve, drinking from fourteen'

It seemed a shocking admission to Roxy, but a matter-of-fact statement from her guest.

The brunette knew that some of her classmates would boast about drinking hard liquor, but that was said to impress, for Gabby it was clearly just a perfectly normal thing.

More drinks yielded more revelations. "Young" Gabby had apparently began more than just drinking from the age of fourteen, and it sounded to Roxy that she was bi-sexual. A mixture of cider and wine was beginning to befuddle the older girl's brain but as best as she could follow it, the blonde had spoken of losing her virginity to a schoolteacher, having a miscarriage, nearly being forced to marry a man who was 'a total prick, except he had a tiny prick' then 'fooling around with girls who are much more fun'

Utterly intrigued, Roxy went to find a bottle of expensive malt whisky that she had smuggled out of the house. Suddenly she felt her legs begin to buckle.

'Actually, I'm feeling a bit tired' she announced just about managing not to slur the words.

'It has been a long day for me' she added trying to explain.

Gabby smiled. She stood up perfectly soberly and sympathised.

'I'm sorry I've kept you gassing, but I had fun' she kissed Roxy gently on the cheek

'see you tomorrow, sleep well'

Before Roxy's eyes could regain focus her visitor had gone.

The brightness of the morning light did nothing to ease her aching head.

Still wearing her clothes from the night before, Roxy stumbled out of bed and hurried to the bathroom for a much needed drink of water. Two further glasses of the cold, refreshing liquid eased some of her distress. Opening the medicine cabinet she blessed her own foresight to unpack the aspirin, though she could not recall doing so. She delayed taking a shower, somehow coffee seemed a more pressing need. As she passed the table she found a couple of cigarettes, presumably left for her by Gabby.

'Why not?' she decided and picked one up, using the gas stove as a lighter.

Odd memories of the previous evening filtered back. She genuinely thought that Gabby was a "sweet girl" especially for leaving the cigarettes, but when she began an audible commentary she couldn't help focusing on different areas.

'My night with white trash' she spoke as if reciting a movie title.

'No, Revenge of the alcoholic nympho-girl' she tried again. She began to laugh, perhaps not aware that she was still drunk from the night before.

'Today on Jerry Springer, the teenage lesbo whores and the teachers they marry!' That one seemed to amuse her in particular and she laughed out loud, until her head throbbed with a more intense pain.

She forgot the coffee and sought more aspirin.

It took some time before Roxy felt ready to move again.

She went back to the table to clear away the glasses and noticed that one still was half-filled with wine.

'Hair of the dog' it was an expression she had heard her mother say on many occasions.

She drained the glass.

"Hey Rox, are you awake yet?' a now familiar voice sounded softly at the door.

The tall brunette realised she had forgotten to lock the door after Gab had gone.

'Sure, come in'

'Hey good looking' the blonde sounded as chirpy as she had yesterday. 'I don't suppose you found more cigs?'

Roxy felt guilty, but not at all in the mood to go searching through her unpacked things.

'I don't really know the area yet, are there shops nearby?' she asked.

'There is a sort of shop on the ground floor, the "Cornucopia" stupid name' Gabby answered.

'It means Horn of Plenty' said Roxy

'I *know* that. It's stupid cause it hardly sells fucking anything' the blonde giggled 'but it does sell cigs and drink, washing stuff, candy bars, that sort of thing'

'Great, would you mind going? I'm a little tender still' Roxy hated to admit the fact given that Gab looked so fresh. Probably for the first time, Gabby looked abashed.

'Slight cash problem' she lowered her eyes.

'Goodness no! I'm sorry' the brunette was sincere.

'I owe you' she went to get some cash.

Though she could not recall every detail of their conversation, it was more than obvious that these two girls, of very similar age had been subject to very different upbringings.

When Roxy looked at the money she held, what had seemed before to be a pittance now appeared an obscene amount of riches.

'This is a bit of a favour but could you get a carton of cigarettes, two bottles of white wine and some more cider, anything else you may think I need?' she handed over an ample amount.

Gabby looked with suspicion at the other girl.

'I know it's a lot to carry, especially up those stairs...'

Gabby considered the brunette closely. She didn't like to be treated as a charity case, but she reckoned that Roxy was not doing so, at least not in a patronising way.

'OK, as long as I can bum some of the ciggies from you until I get some money'

'Sure thing' smiled Roxy.

The blonde had suggested it would take her a while, so Roxy decided to take a quick shower.

As she got dressed in a fresh T-shirt and clean denims, she reflected how odd it was that Gabby, at least a few months her junior had experienced so much more of life; that Roxy's own "comfortable" lifestyle had not given her the confidence that the other girl possessed. She also realised that she knew very little about Gabby, their chat last night had rather stayed on certain aspects, because of Roxy's own curiosity she had to admit.

At least this time she felt no fear when the knock on the door arrived.

'Only me, your maid' Gabby giggled.

In addition to the requested items the blonde girl was carrying an envelope.

'This was half shoved under your door. You should tell whoever to be more careful. There are some unsavoury characters around here'

Taking the envelope Roxy was puzzled.

'I wouldn't trust those Pilgrims along the hall'

'Pilgrims?' the brunette was more concentrating on the envelope, it had been hand delivered.

'You know, Pilgrims, bumpkins, country corns' Gabby carried on.

'They take hay rides on a bumpy road and tell the kids it's Disneyland' she laughed at her own joke.

'Gotcha' declared Roxy though the contents of the envelope had grabbed virtually all of her attention.

She finally sat down on the edge of her bed, the blonde remained hovering by the table.

'Sorry Gab, please take a pack of cigs and throw one over here'

The blonde seemed relieved as if she had been waiting for permission to do just that.

'Listen if you want something to eat I have eggs and bread, just look around' the brunette offered.

'Hey!' said Gabby with a grin, 'If I am gonna be your maid, I want one of those sexy little uniforms'

As she cooked Gabby took it upon herself to educate the new arrival.

'OK I've told you about the downstairs shop, there are lots more including a K-mart just around the corner, buses are pretty regular from across the street and about two blocks in the other direction, towards the river there are more good places'

'Thanks, I'm sure I'll get used to it' Roxy said with a little uncertainty.

'Now. The laundry stuff is in the basement. Always check the machine is empty. Some smart guy always forgets a pair of red socks. And you know anything coloured leaves your whites all stained.

I think it's a guy who is pervy for pink panties'

That notion got them both giggling and they shared scrambled eggs while Gabby gave the low-down on all the "dirty old men" on the top floor.

' A few young single women too live here, but I haven't found out how pervy they are' it was another of those ambiguous sounding comments that reminded Roxy of the previous night's chat.

As before it was accompanied by a wink from Gabby.

Just at first it had unsettled Roxy, but now she seemed totally at ease with this girl-woman who was so very different from her self.

To her own surprise Roxy offered to open a bottle of wine.

'Getting a taste for the cheap stuff?' another wink from the blonde.

The brunette smiled.

'Maybe I'd like to taste lots of new things' She instantly wished she hadn't said that, and even Gabby was momentarily silenced. Trying to help breach the awkwardness Gabby asked

'do you like my new top?'

It was another mistake, and totally unintentional, but drawing Roxy's attention to another cleavage revealing garment just caused further embarrassment.

'Very nice' said Roxy who quickly glanced away.

It was strange that the topic of Gabby's Sapphic tendencies had not fazed her at all the night before, indeed the brunette had experienced vicarious thrills simply at the proposition that this fresh-faced, petite pocket dynamo had sounded at times wanton in her pursuit of women, yet now it was as if the possibility had been made taboo. Perhaps stranger still that Gabby herself who had made admissions freely on a variety of matters, now found a reluctance to talk.

The only difference was that the embarrassment occurred because *Roxy* had issued the risqu„ statement about 'trying new things'.

Perhaps some people just couldn't carry "risqu„". The discomfort felt was mutual, as was the incomprehension as to what had caused it.

Gabby was not someone to hold a silence.

'Does that TV work? You don't seem to switch it on'

Roxy was happy to do so.

'Was there anything special you wanted to see?' she asked flicking through different channel via the remote.

'I love football' said the blonde 'not the cowboys and stuff, I mean soccer'

Roxy kept flicking as if awaiting a signal to stop.

'It probably won't be on, I had boyfriend from Europe, he loved football, soccer, whatever...he watched it so much I finally took an interest and actually quite liked it'

'I'm not really a sports person' the brunette confessed 'though I did have a hobby that will surprise you'

'Ooh! A guessing game, this should be fun' it was clear the mood had lightened again, they kept the TV switched on though with muted sound.

'Mud-wrestling, bricklaying, kick-boxing' Gabby let out a stream of guesses

'Mmm, no' laughed Roxy though again the meander towards risqu„ was OK because it originated from the blonde

'and no and no' she confirmed the two further wrong guesses.

'Any clues?' asked Gabby

The taller girl hesitated 'I wore leather...'

'That I would love to see!' the guest replied without thinking.

It was one of those moments when everything could have finished cold. It had been however briefly, like an unspoken agreement that a blossoming friendship should not be cut down by the possibility of sexual tension. Gabby had as good as confessed she was positively attracted to women, Roxy though perfectly alright with the theory, was made uncomfortable by the notion that *she herself* could be the subject of such lust. It would be pointless to deny that they both were drawn together by that unfathomable chemistry that exists between certain people...but unless the lines converged at exactly the right place...

'Motorcycles!' exclaimed Gabby

'You got it' laughed Roxy.

The waters remained untested to the full. Perhaps each had found a comfort zone, and were happy to stay there, but they both knew that time would surely unfold more and more tests of their ability to avoid the taboo.

'Only ever Harleys or Indians' Roxy said, 'one of the few things my father taught me well'

'Everyone wanted an Indian where I came from' agreed Gabby, 'it was like a badge of honour'

Further discussions followed on a diverse range of topics, this time Roxy took the lead and divulged more of her past, letting the blonde gain some insight into a more privileged lifestyle.

The brunette suddenly stopped.

'Do you have change from this morning?'

'Shit! I forgot. I swear to God I forgot Rox, I wasn't trying to steal it'

This was one of the few times when the taller, older girl actually felt as if she *were* older.

'God no love, I wasn't accusing you!' she assured her friend and emphasised the fact by grabbing the blonde's hand, and rubbing it gently.

' I just thought we could use some more wine, maybe I should go, I have to leave this room sometime'

'You forget I am your maid, your wish is my command' Gabby just about managed to keep on the safe side of the line they dare not cross, by the teasing tone of her voice.

Roxy got up and was pleased that she did not feel nearly as drunk as she had done the night before.

'God I am enjoying this!' she exclaimed, honestly. 'Just get more wine, cider, whatever we need'

She handed over some more cash. Slightly more inebriated than she would admit, the taller girl looked around as if searching for something, her eyes rested on the calendar.

'I knew it! Today is Friday 13th! Buy as much booze as you can carry and when you get back we will lock ourselves in'

'Good grief do you have that superstition too!?' Gabby almost didn't like the fact that a stupid superstition was shared by someone so level-headed, if a little drunk.

Despite the possible bad omens the blonde made it back safely to Roxy's apartment.

She immediately locked the door with her host nodding approval in the background.

The pair were sharing the sofa, staring at the TV and either separately or together drifting off to sleep.

Food seemed irrelevant and further wine was consumed, at a steadier pace than had been the case previously, but still enough for slumber to affect even the more experienced toper.


Roxy had meant to simply flip the channel, but instead released the "mute" button.

The blonde was snoozing, snuggled close and with Roxy's arm across her shoulder.

The brunette stared at the cleavage that had previously seemed out of bounds.

'Jeez! Sorry Rox, I don't usually fall asleep after just a bottle or two' Gabby showed her rare embarrassed face.

'No problem love' said the brunette, and she leaned down and kissed the other girl's forehead.

'That was nice' said Gabby betraying surprise but contentment in her voice.

'Do you know what day it is?' the brunette asked.

'I rather hoped that we had established earlier that I am not stupid' Gabby kept her tone neutral, she didn't like the implication of the question, but realised she was not yet fully alert.

'One woman of courage can change the world, I want to change *my* world at least'

'Rox you are drunk' bemoaned the petite blonde 'and by the sound of it I *need* a drink'

'If today if Friday 13th, what does that make tomorrow?' the brunette was grinning wildly.

Gabby moved to break free, her annoyance level rising.

'Stay there, I will get the wine, I will be *your* maid' soothed Roxy.

'OK. Saturday 14th' the blonde seemed exasperated.

Roxy returned with two freshly charged wine glasses, two newly lit cigarettes.

She again gently kissed her companion.

'Valentine's Day. The day for lovers'

Gabby was half way to raising the wine to her lips.

'Roxy, do you know what you are doing?' she asked, her voice more high-pitched than usual.

'Squeezing your breast and loving every moment of it!?'

'I pray to God this isn't the drink talking' sighed Gabby

'In vino veritas' Roxy automatically replied but then added

'No. Absolutely not. I promise I will wait until tomorrow more alcohol will pass my lips, but God! You are the most beautiful, lovely *perfect* being I have ever known...'

Some mutual kissing followed, but neither allowed themselves to break the *new* unworded taboo that sober reflection should guide any advancement of the relationship.

'Have you ever been to Crawford Heights?' Roxy asked in the early morning glow.

'I'm guessing not' replied Gabby, who to be truthful was less at ease with this apparent switch in roles between them.

'That letter yesterday, it was my invitation to the annual family Valentine's bash. I suppose my daddy just couldn't let go old habits...'

'I swear to God I am sober' said Gabby, 'I *hope* to God you are. I still don't know what this means'

'It means, my beautiful soul, that we are going to my home this evening. Me by custom and you as my Valentine's guest. I will announce that we are a couple, and my family can make of that what they will'

Roxy looked triumphant, Gabby uncertain to the point of panicked.

'My courage will change my world' Roxy grabbed the petite blonde and took her into an impassioned embrace that developed into a more prolonged, and intimate, entanglement.

Some hours later the couple were simply basking.

'Tell me, have you ever seen a TV show called "Xena: Warrior Princess?"

'I'm pretty sure not' replied Gabby 'I don't actually own a TV of my own'

'It has these women called Amazons, Ephiny is a complete doll, and they seem to live in something resembling a lesbian commune' Roxy was sounding more excited than was necessary,

'even some bitch called Velasca had me wetting my pants'

The young blonde, experienced as she was, preferred to deny any knowledge.

'Funny that, there is a character called Gabrielle who is just like you, or maybe more like me'

Roxy led her "inamorata" to a waiting taxi. 'And Xena is me, yet she is you!'

'You are making no sense, maybe you should just kiss me' suggested Gabby.

'So who wears the maid outfit that I just bought?' the brunette attempted gravitas.

Gabby and Roxy became so involved that the inquisitive cab driver would never know.



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